Ultimate Joy

Archive for April 2012

It was an unusual assignment to say the least. Write a blog entry celebrating the life of a long time church volunteer. While unusual, how difficult could it be? Which is what I always say when I’m scared to death to write what I have been assigned.

Could I pull poignant words together to sum up the character of a man I’d never met in 500 words or less? Add to that the pressure of invading upon the family’s grief to acquire necessary data, insecurities about my writing began to show.

But in the end, the writing was easy, not because I’ve honed my craft, but because the subject’s life captivated me.

Bob was a teacher and counselor in the education system for many years.  But after he retired, he wanted to remain active. In his 70’s he discovered a new side of himself. He crafting crosses out of nails, screws and, for the sports fans, golf tees.  Even when the disease that finally took his life was ravaging his body, late into the night you’d still find Bob making these little crosses.

The work was a labor of love for him as the nails signified the ultimate sacrifice Christ made for us on the cross. But they became something else. A changed life starts with a defining moment. Those little crosses were used by God and Bob to influence individuals in the most important decision they’d ever make.

Someone would compliment Bob on the cross he wore, and boom!  They received not only a cross of their own for Bob kept dozens in his pockets; they also heard a compelling personal account of how the redeeming work done on the cross saved Bob and could save them. As I wrote about how Bob changed the eternity of so many, I wondered if he ever questioned why God chose to use him in the first place.

It’s not dramatic to create crosses out of nails, but it is cathartic to know God meets us in our brokenness to transform lives. Even as he was close to death, Bob was still creating – still trying to find ways to inspire men and women, students and adults to surrender their lives to Jesus. What an unspeakable privilege Bob received from God!

Bob and I have one thing in common – we try to reach the word for Christ through a creative process. And while saddened because we’d never discuss it in this realm, I rejoice there are others who spread the Christ’s love.

True contentment is found only at the foot of the cross. It is joy unspeakable.

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On a scale of one to ten, this nightmare rated a fifteen.  Overcome by outlandish fear, I jumped out of bed at 2:45AM. My chest heaved because my lungs couldn’t suck in air fast enough. My skin burnt as though it had been seared and my head pounded in rhythm with the jackhammer that was pulverizing it. The intense terror beating in my heart chilled as if, before I was dead, I had viewed my grave from the inside out.

This season in my life has been a growing period, and growth brings with it certain pressures. In my heart, I know there are areas I need to change, but somehow lack the resolve. There are also tons of good habits I need to start. When the futility of attacking these areas with my own strength sets in, that’s when the nightmares begin.

Thank goodness for God’s love letter to us. 2 Corinthians 1:5 states, “For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also is our comfort abundant in Christ.” Comfort, that’s precisely what I needed! And it astonished me how easy God made it for me. After all, 2:45AM isn’t the time to be calling up caring friends. My limited choices compelled me into finding respite in Him, my Savior.

In those early morning “I’m afraid” sessions we all have, I’ve conditioned myself not to drink the poison of rejection, doubt and fear. If left untreated, they will only permeate and destroy.

Instead I embrace the hope that can only be found in Jesus Christ. No matter how uncertain life is, God is still God. He is always sovereign. And though I don’t often understand His ways, I trust Him.

Not just for my salvation, but for those times when I’m tempted to believe my doubts, for the times when Satan’s lies attack my heart and my mind.  He is the master deceiver and his lies are often so appealing that we believe them rather than trusting God.

During my disturbed night, I trace my heritage. I’m a princess; I am the daughter of the Most High God. And as I lay back down to sleep, He whispers softly, gently into my ear, “I am crafting a story in You that You have yet to grasp.  It will highlight your uniqueness; reveal the strengths you don’t even know you have. Your story will reflect who you really are and your purpose. There will be no stopping you for I now live in you. I’ve got bigger plans for you than you can even imagine.”

“Now come,” He gently sighs, “snuggle deeply into my soothing arms.”

What does God whisper to you during the times you are afraid? 

“Christ is Risen, He is Risen, Indeed!”

“I don’t have anything to wear!” I cried to my husband.  No one would ever accuse me of being stylish and vogue, shiny and colorful or even stunning and ravishing.  I’m all about comfort, so usually when I utter this phrase, it’s a tip off I’m nervous.

This morning, individuals from my church served breakfast, organized an Easter egg hunt and put on a short service for individuals living in a local residential hotel. The event’s purpose was to share the love of Jesus and offer a hot breakfast to those who might not have a meal today. Additionally, I was asked to give a brief message, a bit of my testimony rolled up with the story of Christ’s Resurrection’s power.

I wanted to look authentic, whatever that meant.  

Wherever you live, poverty lives down the road. We learned our breakfast attendees had been tossed and churned by life, beaten and spit out. And all too often, they blamed Jesus for their suffering. So today was a day to speak life, affirmation, truth and forgiveness into their lives.

What a difference from my childhood memories. Growing up, my family always dressed in our Easter finest. Everyone got a new outfit as we scurried off to church. Once home, we feasted on gourmet food, sat at a table that was impressive and enjoyed Easter baskets way over the top. We were probably a bit prideful, myself included.

But today was not about Easter bunnies, chocolate and delicious brunch food. This was about feasting on the true message of genuine love and faithfulness.

Christ’s death wasn’t pretty or hospitable.  It was authentic and real; offering the total gift of Himself, which resulted in our freedom. And that was the true reason why we were at this hotel.

Easter reminds us that Jesus’ life was not over when He died. He was brought back to life: to live a new life. We celebrate His death and resurrection at Easter. These events point us to the greater work of God – to the bigger, more amazing event that has happened in Jesus and what we wait for: new life promised to those who love Him.

He calls all of us to a new life, a fuller life. A rebirth, renewal, and a reawakening that is fulfilled in Christ’s resurrection.

And when I thought of it that way, I realized I’d never find an outfit that could say all that!

Philippians 4: 4 states, “Rejoice in the Lord, always. I will say it again, rejoice!” Easter is a special time of year when the earth fills with colors, textures, fragrances. It is time to celebrate new life. A time of joy.  A time to rejoice.

I gave thanks for the people who came to the breakfast. I rejoiced they put away their anger with God to enjoy a meal. I found joy in their stories – each one painful, each one poignant. And in the process, God blessed me.

Practice the ministry of presence. It only takes a few minutes to celebrate the life of another.  Who will benefit most from the gift of your time today?

Amen

Posted on: April 2, 2012

Was it some peculiar Bahamian tradition?

On this tour, whenever the guide wanted our group to move along he’d say, “Amen, sisters; let’s go brothers!” His signal was both hilarious and memorable.

Every once in a while, I need a “amen.” Not the tiny little one you whisper at the end of a personal prayer.  No, right now I need the loud, riotous one where the preacher shouts, “Can I get an amen?” and the congregation rises to the challenge with a roaring “amen” that literally shakes the rafters and can be heard down the street.

Do you ever need a good, old-fashioned, “amen” to remind you you’re not in the minority?

Christianity isn’t for wimps. Our God is a radical Being. God pulled on skin to help us fit into ours, made His love lesson into words we can read.  The God who renovated this fallen world with nails driven right through His hands expects us to not only receive His love, but also share it with our world.

Our job description is deceptively simple – to “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)  I don’t know about you, but that requires more strength than I have, more compassion than is in my heart, more love than I am capable of. It’s only when we know we have extravagantly received grace that we can extravagantly reach out in grace.

When extending myself in a difficult situation, I’m left with questions that haunt us all: “Was it worth it?  Did it make a difference?”

That’s when I take a good long look at His nail-scared hands.  They pierce my pride and self-importance. Because I believe in my walk with Jesus, I have wounded Him enough for Him to ask the same question about me, “Was it worth it?”

Christ doesn’t see it that way, I know.  He willingly laid down His life to save mine so I would be saved by His grace.  Aided by this, I have the courage to live a radically different, sold-out life for Him.  I Corinthians encourages us, “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” Christianity means risking being wrong with the world to be right with Him.

Knowing His grace covers me motivates me to live a life reaching out to others, helping to meet the needs of others and throwing a servant’s towel across my arm and digging in.  Knowing even if my attempt is imperfect, a child precious to God was shown His light today.

The more I accept His grace and am filled with His mercy, the more I can spread His love throughout the world.

Can I get an “Amen?”